Look Up

So at some point in your study abroad experience, you’re  going to start missing home very very keenly. It’ll happen at a different time for everyone-for some of you it’ll be right from the get-go and then you’ll gradually settle in. For others, you’ll have an amazing first few weeks and then once the first month rolls around you’ll find yourself missing the smallest things about DU, Colorado, or wherever your home state may be. The point is, it’s going to happen at some point, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I started missing home a lot when there were more and more days like this:

(Rainy, cold, and brutally windy)

….than days like this:

(sunny and positively enchanting).

What started to get to me especially were the shortened days. And I don’t mean Colorado shortened days where the sun goes down a bit after dinnertime and everyone feels like going to bed a bit early. No, I mean 4 pm, the sun is out of here, and you’ve still got part of the afternoon and an entire evening to get through before it’s acceptable to go to bed. And then the sun doesn’t come up again until 7:15, but it won’t really seem like it because it’s usually so overcast in the mornings this time of year. That’s difficult to figure out how to deal with, especially since Colorado spoils you so hard with its 300+ sunny days per year and its reliably spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

So I’ve had to do some strategizing. The first thing was making further use of the light box that my friend who went on this exchange program last year gave me. I have it on whenever I’m in my room, especially when it’s dark, and the added (if simulated) natural light does a lot to boost my mood. The second thing was to beat the sun at its own game. If sunset was going to happen at 4 pm, then I am going to get up with the sun and soak up all the vitamin D I can while it’s around. That’s turned out to be a pretty good strategy, as it leads to morning walks around campus and around town where there’s this gorgeous mist that settles over everything and then slowly burns off as the sun rises.

This particular stretch of road is home to several horses. They like to sit near the gates and wait for friendly people to come by and pet them and feed them.

The third helpful thing in beating the winter-darkness blues has been to look up. And that may seem like a vague bit of advice. But when I walk places, I tend to look at my feet or the ground in front of me a lot. This is born partially out of habit, and partly because I have been known to be quite clumsy and can avoid tripping over things if I’m watching where those things are. This also means that I miss a lot. So I’ve started to very intentionally vary my gaze while I’m walking places-whether it’s up at the trees, straight ahead at the people passing by, or to the side to look at the charming Yorkshire houses-I’m doing my best to quit looking at the ground.

And it helps! I’ve started to notice little things that I love about York that I wouldn’t have noticed before. There’s little grannies all over the place in town that argue with one another in thick northern accents about where they should go shopping next. All the dog owners in York chastise their dogs for not walking fast enough, while the dogs themselves just stare adoringly at their owners without a care in the world, because York is a great place to be a dog. You can catch little gaggles of schoolchildren at the right time of day heading off to classes and chuckle at their matching uniforms and ties bouncing over their shoulders as they race each other to get to the playground.

In short, looking up helps to remind me that the things I love about York far outweigh the frustration that comes with rainy, short days. So when you end up missing home or getting caught up in the annoying things about your host city, remember it’s not permanent. Seasons change. Rainy days end. The sun will rise and set resolutely, regardless of how short its allotted time in the sky is. And in the meantime, there are delightful and quirky things to be found in your host city, it just takes a little searching.

York, for example, loves skeletons and ghost stories.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger.

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Day in the Life

Welcome to Caen!

Welcome to Caen!

When I first arrived here in France, I wasn’t sure what my day-to-day life would look like. Every day, it seemed that I would wake up, and have something new to figure out. Where is the Tram stop? What is the nearest bus station to the Université? How do I order my coffee? How much time will it take to do this homework? For the first few weeks, every day looked different, as I adjusted to classes and found my way around the town of Caen. Now, about halfway through the program, I feel like I have finally settled into a routine and figured out how to live abroad. Here’s what a typical day is like:

Morning

My day starts with a nice, small breakfast with my host parents. I don’t normally eat breakfast at home, and I’ll just have a cup of coffee before class. Here, we have toasted baguette, Nutella, and coffee or tea. It’s nice and small, but the perfect way to start out the day! If we have time, we will sit and talk about the plans we have for the day ahead, or discuss politics, art, or music. Try talking about President Obama at 8:00 in the morning… en français.

Tram arriving. It's really similar to Denver's Light Rail system.

Tram arriving. It’s really similar to Denver’s Light Rail system.

I then take the Tram to the Université. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my first class starts at 10:15, and on Thursdays, my first class is at 8:30. The Tram is always super crowded, but I manage to wedge myself in there! That’s something about France that I can’t quite get used to… the utter lack of personal space. I’m getting more and more used to it, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a sardine can.

The Carré International building at UniCaen.

The Carré International building at UniCaen.

All of my classes are in French, and sometimes starting out early is difficult. I enjoy my classes, and my professors are really funny and incredibly patient with my peculiarities.

Afternoon

The main statue on the Université campus.

The main statue on the Université campus.

We get an hour for lunch every day, and it’s actually used for lunch! Some days, my friends and I eat the Restaurant Universitaire, or the Resto, and sometimes we forgo the Resto in favor of a “pique-nique” of baguette sandwiches. When it’s nice outside, we will find a patch of grass and sit under a tree, but when it’s raining (which happens a few times a week), we sit in the stairwell of the Carré International Building. There are a lot of windows, and it’s fun to people watch and discuss our classes and favorite professors. I like actually taking the time to eat and relax with my friends! No doing last minute homework or returning emails for me!

Yummy lunch at the Resto.

Yummy lunch at the Resto.

I finish my courses at 4:00 pm, and afterwards my friends and I go to a café to relax. We have a favorite café in Caen called Memoranda, which is also a bookstore. I usually get tea and an apple crumble. We have become regulars so the lady who works at the café now knows us (and she knows my order, which is quite funny!).

My tea and favorite crumble at Memoranda, the café and bookstore in Caen that I love.

My tea and favorite crumble at Memoranda, the café and bookstore in Caen that I love.

Evening

My bookcase in my room at my homestay.

My bookcase in my room at my home stay.

I don’t eat dinner with my host parents until 7:30 or 8:00 PM, so when I get back to our apartment I still have some  time before dinner. I try to finish my homework before dinner, and after dinner I might sit with them and watch television, or study, blog, write postcards to my friends, skype my parents, or just read.

We usually drink tea after dinner, and will either watch TV or I will go back to my room. If we have guests for dinner, we’ll stay in the kitchen and talk. After socializing, I will get ready for bed, finish my homework, and read for a little bit before actually going to sleep around 11:30 pm or midnight (only if we talk for a long time).

I thrive on my routine at DU, and having a routine in Caen has made me feel like I’m not only a foreigner intruding on the bubble of this wonderful college town in lower Normandy, but an actual resident who is living and thriving here. For me, it has been one of the greatest challenges, and the greatest successes, to feel at home in Caen, and I think I finally do.

- Zoe Diaz-McLeese, DUSA Blogger
Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France

 

 

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Aly’s Blog: Cochabamba, Bolivia

Beautifully written and a fascinating read, check out what Aly, one of our students, is doing as she studies abroad in Bolivia. Her latest post is on ice cream, as a quick teaser.

http://de-pompingthecircumstance.blogspot.com/

PL-048-Bolivia-Kevorkian

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Justine’s Blog: Bilbao, Spain

Justine is studying at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain and blogging bilingually (in English and Spanish). Practice your Spanish and read up on her awesome experiences!

http://www.justinehenderson.com/esp/

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How to Get Sick: A User’s Guide

The stomach of steel is a myth.

Sorry to break it to ya, especially you “tough as nails” folk, but ABROAD WILL TAKE YOU DOWN. It’s really a question of when rather than if.

But I – No.  I haven’t – No.  I’m tougher – Still no.

They lay it right out there during orientation – you will get sick. It’s far better to accept it, acknowledge it, and move on. Chalk it up to just another study abroad experience. Strange food, strange cooking, stress – your immune system just ain’t up for it for 4 months. So take heed of a few tips from those of us who have already lost the battle:


Give it a week before you go all “Bizarre Foods Study Abroad Edition”

I’m all for being adventurous – it’s study abroad after all – but let your system become accustomed a bit before you eat the worms.

No matter what country you travel to, there’s going to be something awesome and ethnic and cultural to eat. It might be cuy (guinea pig), it might be alpaca, it might be real live octopus, but chances are day two isn’t going to be the only time or the best time to try it. And farther down the line, it might not make you want to throw up, either. ;)

Aimee Schneider, MSID Ecuador 2014, considers her worm carefully before taking the first bite. There are all types of learning while abroad - even learning to eat worms!

The audacious Aimee Schneider, MSID Ecuador 2014, considers her worm carefully before taking the first bite. There are all types of learning while abroad – even learning to eat worms

The daring Emma Kaplan, MSID Ecuador 2014, tosses one back - one worm that is - while studying in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The daring Emma Kaplan, MSID Ecuador 2014, tosses one back – one worm that is – while studying in the Ecuadorian Amazon



Gettin’ Some Air

 While we come from a mile high, that sneaky altitude can still get ya. Some cities – such as Quito in Ecuador and La Paz in Bolivia – lie high up in the mountains (in the case of Quito and La Paz, in the Andes) where the altitude is almost double that of Denver. It certainly is an advantage to come from Rocky Mountain High where the sky is clear and the air is thin, but be prepared. My new friend Brenna had a horrible stomach ache the entire first week we were in Quito, which she attributed to nerves and new food. After taking every type of medication she had brought with her and several our host families had recommended, it finally occurred to her that going from Minnesota land of the flat to Quito at over 9,000 ft might have had some affect. After taking her altitude meds and drinking a lake full of water, no sign of the stomach ache since.

Take that 14ers! 9000ft weren't enough for us, we needed even higher altitude. Volcano Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador. (Maddie Doering, Aimee Schneider, Emma Kaplan - MSID Ecuador 2014)

Take that 14ers! 9000ft weren’t enough for us, we needed even higher altitude. Volcano Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador. (Maddie Doering, Aimee Schneider, Emma Kaplan – MSID Ecuador 2014)

Brenna and myself climbing Cotopaxi

Brenna and myself climbing Cotopaxi


The Thirst for Adventure

 Water. To drink or not to drink, that is the question.

In this case, do as the locals do. If they’re not drinking tap water, odds are you probably shouldn’t be either. If you’re really worried, however, or just don’t want to constantly be buying bottles of water, definitely look into safe water techniques. Chlorine tablets, iodine drops, and even UV lights that kill bacteria in water are all great options.

Look how refreshing that water looks! - MSID Ecuador 2014

Look how refreshing that water looks! – MSID Ecuador 2014


Going Native

Getting sick is all part of the experience, as is getting better. So as you want to heave your cookies, just think about what a wonderful experience this is to discover more about the local culture. When I got sick, my host mom made more tea than I thought I could possibly contain. I practically floated for two days. But I got to see how she made it all directly from the actual plant (no tea bags here!) and I did end up feeling better. I also got to experience “limpio de huevo” – the egg cleaning – technique to get rid of all my bad energy. She essentially rubbed an egg all over me then cracked it in water. Where the white floated to the surface was where my “energia negativa” was contained. So really, I’m just holistically a more well person right now.

egg doctor


So friends. Get sick and get some culture. Hopefully these tips will help you so that while you may lose the battle, you can win the war. Happy travels!

-Madeline Doering – DUSA Blogger


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Intercambios Saved My Spanish

After more than a month in Spain, I have a new level of respect for anyone who decides to move to a country where they will have to speak a different language. Even the simplest sentiments can be difficult to translate. Oftentimes, it takes me about twice as long to say the same sentence in Spanish as it would take to say it in English. Sometimes I hold up my hand, say “espera,” and take a minute to search for the word I need. And every once in a while, after staring into space for far too long, I sigh and say, “no importa.”

Though I try to practice as much as possible, it hasn’t been as easy as I expected. Originally, I imagined myself speaking Spanish all the time once I got off the plane in Madrid but it soon became clear that our program coordinators were going to communicate with us almost exclusively in English. Whenever I was hanging out with other people in my program they spoke English too. After a couple weeks I felt myself comfortably slipping into speaking English whenever I could, which was often, considering all my friends were Americans from our program.

Wait, I would think every so often. This isn’t what I came here to do. It felt wrong to only ever be speaking in Spanish when I was with my host mom or in class. Wasn’t I supposed to be trying to immerse myself in this new language? At the same time, I didn’t want to ask my friends to try to have Spanish-only conversations with me, and I really did not want to attempt to ask a native speaker if they ever wanted to chat. I’ve played out the scenario in my head, and the only way it ever ends is badly. So badly. And awkwardly.

The perfect solution to my problem came a few weeks after we started classes: an intercambio. In Spanish, the word intercambio means “exchange,” and in this instance the exchange is vocal. Our university matches us up with a native Spanish-speaking university student who wants to practice speaking English and, once we’re given their contact information, it’s up to us to set up a meeting and start practicing.

Intercambios are the best thing to happen to my Spanish conversational skills since the Spanishdict app. I’ve met with many of my friends’ intercambios as well as my own, and they are all extremely friendly and speak near-flawless English too boot. They help you with your grammar mistakes and teach you slang that varies from the useful to the, well, less-than-appropriate.

One of the sights I saw while exploring Sevilla with my intercambio - Plaza de España

One of the sights I saw while exploring Sevilla with my intercambio – Plaza de España

The other night I had my first dinner out where it was just me with my intercambio and her Spanish-speaking friends. To say the least, it was intimidating. Not a word of English was spoken. Many times I ended up grimacing because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to react with surprise, disgust, or happiness. The pace of conversation was so fast that whole minutes passed with stories flying over my head as constantly nibbled on my food to make it look like I had a reason for my silence. Every once in a while, my intercambio would turn to me and translate a story that had just passed, rapid-fire and full of slang I don’t know, between her two friends.

Though the experience may have been a little bewildering, it was fulfilling in a way that spending a night speaking in English wouldn’t have been. I felt like, though I struggled, I was accomplished in some way.

And the things worth accomplishing, the ones that leave us with a sense of pride after we’ve achieved them, are the ones that present the hardest struggle along the way.

Intercambio night! Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more.

Intercambio night! Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more.

To help with navigating the struggle that is overcoming the language barrier, I’ve compiled some facts/ tips that I’ve picked up in the last month and a half:

  • You will be scared. Don’t be. Nervousness may keep you from saying something wrong, but it will never allow you the chance to learn how to say it right.
  • (Most) people appreciate your efforts. Speaking in a country’s native language shows an appreciation for the people and their culture, and you are more likely to run into people who will help you through a conversation than people who will judge you for your mistakes.
  • Learning a language takes time; progress may seem slow, but as long as you keep practicing it will happen. Everyday phrases will become easier when you actually start using them everyday.
  • Sometimes the only reason you understand what people are saying is because of the accompanying hand signals they make.
    • Just today I had an entire conversation with my tapas professor using hand motions and sounds to imitate what food would sound like in the pan. Seriously. (And it was probably the most entertaining conversation I had all day). You can get by even when you don’t have the words to, so don’t get flustered when you can’t figure out what you need to say.

Emily Laurinec-Studer, DUSA blogger

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The Post You’ve Been Waiting For: Foodies in Zanzibar

Hamjambo!

So if you know me, you know I love everything about food: the smell, restaurants, cooking, and especially eating.  I know that once I come back from Zanzibar, after friends and family tell me how tan I’m getting (which is pretty tan if I must say so myself), they’ll ask me about what I learned to cook.  Meals in Zanzibar are different than anywhere else I have visited, so I thought it would be cool to, instead of just saying the food I’m eating, to take you all through the steps of a Zanzibari meal.

Firstly, you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  Dinner is eaten pretty late here, anywhere between 7 and 10 pm (that’s 1 and 4 usiku in Swahili time), so you show up around seven thirty because Swahili time is never on-time.  The most important thing is that you take your shoes off when you enter – in Islam, shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be worn in the house.  Also, if this is a formal occasion, you should dress for it.  That means full headscarf and makeup (and for the mzungus, makeup to make you look Arabic).  For Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of hajj (the pilgrimmage to Mecca), I had my makeup (over)done by my host mom.  See below.

Anyway, back to the meal.  You need to greet your host with a handshake (people use the “limp fish” handshake technique or just a low high-five basically) and you hold on until you’ve finished multiple rounds of greetings.  There’s no appetizers set out, no glass of wine (Muslims don’t drink alcohol), just a floor mat and pillows or if you’re lucky, a couch.  Eventually, you hear “Chakula tayari!” (food’s ready!) and you head for the dining room.  You’d expect a dining room like at home with miscellaneous paintings on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle.  Wrong.  There’s an eating mat spread out on the floor with some plastic on top for food spillage, which will definitely happen.  No chairs, no table; you sit on the floor cross-legged around all your friends and family.

The food spread out before you is like nothing you’ve ever seen: breads, beans, some veggie things, something that looks like a fat pyramid, mounds and mounds of rice, potatoes (the potatoes here are incredibly sweet), fruits, and that one thing you know you love – chapatti.  Chapatti is a wonderful food, it’s a flat bread that’s buttery and flaky and I almost don’t want to know how it’s made because I know it’s going to be extremely unhealthy.  You do a second count of the people in the room and look at the amount of food for those people and think that there’s no way that double the amount of people could finish the meal in front of you.  Wrong again.

Those breads: chapatti, coconut bread, and boflo (bread loaves)
Beans: I hated beans before I came here, now I love them.  Still have no idea how to make them.
Veggies: peas in a curry coconut sauce, pilau which is a soup with potatoes, meats, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and whatever else you want basically
Fat Pyramids: they’re called samosas and they’re incredible.  They’re usually come in beef or veggie form, and they’re basically the meat and veggies wrapped up in filo dough, similar to what they use to make baklava in Greek recipes
Rice: a staple of a Zanzibari diet.

One of the first things I learned in Zanzibar was to always serve yourself, don’t let a Zanzibari do it because you will get your dinner plate covered in rice with the top of the mound rising about six inches off the plate (and that’s no exaggeration), and then you get pilau and other stuff on top of it.

Oh, and did I mention that Zanzibaris don’t use silverware?  It is common and accepted to eat with your hands.  It is both a cultural and religious belief – that Mungu (God) made us to eat with our hands and he gave our hands something that makes the food taste sweet that you lose if you use silverware.  My first time eating with my hands was an absolute disaster, there was rice everywhere but in my belly.  I’ve picked up on some of the techniques now though, and I can almost finish a plate like a Zanzibari.

So you’ve been eating with your hands all these foods you’ve never seen before, and are ready to birth your food baby when your host grabs your plate and you think you’re finished.  Haha, NOPE.  An equally huge portion of rice, pilau, meats, and everything else gets piled back on your plate.  Your expression just drops as you realize that you might actually throw up if you keep eating.  A helpful phrase is “nimeshiba”, meaning “I am full”, but that actually means nothing to Zanzibaris and you have to eat more food anyway.  And once you’re actually done and there’s no more food to be piled on your plate, it’s time for chai!  Chai (communal name for all tea in Kiswahili) here is delicious and spicy and served extremely hot, which is great on super hot and humid days!

And by the way, cooking is done on the floor as well.  So hope your leg muscles are ready for a bunch of squats!

Anyway, once you’re finished with absolutely everything, it’s time to head back home, so you thank your host with goodbyes that are longer than the greetings, put your shoes back on, and pass out on your bed from all the food you ate.  Time to do it again tomorrow night!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

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